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A beat of drum at night, giving notice of soldiers to retreat, or to repair to their quarters in garrison, or to their tents in camp. — Webster, 1882

The campgrounds are deserted; the last tattoo has been sounded…. Peace and comfort filled the land in those days, and the sound of the railroad whistle and the tattoo of the beating drum was unknown… The tattoo of the horses’ feet beat on… – various newspapers

The tattoo mentioned in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl is not the one at right – a loved one’s favorite line inked in my handwriting. Wilder’s tattoo (she spelled it incorrectly as tatoo) compared the rhythmic hoofbeat sounds made by Barnum and Skip as they ran away each time the Fourth of July fireworks went off, to the repeated drumbeats used as the signal for troops to retreat or go to quarters.

A repeated sound is sometimes called the “devil’s tattoo,” a beating or drumming with the fingers or foot, as from listlessness, fatigue, or the like. It was used by Charles Dickens in Bleak House, originally published in 1853: “Beating the devil’s tattoo with his foot on the pattern-less carpet.”

The reference wasn’t used in published These Happy Golden Years, nor in manuscripts consulted. To hear the tattoo beat of horses’ hooves, click HERE. The video will open in a new window/tab. The horses below are from Frederic Remington’s 1889 A Dash for the Timber. Imagine the sound those running horses would have made; that’s a tattoo!


tatoo [sic] (PG)